Police in hunt for petrol-bomber who incinerated family's four generations

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The Independent Online
THE MIDDLE-AGED woman stooped down and gently laid a bunch of white carnations in the front yard of what was, until 48 hours ago, a family home. Her husband looked up at the charred brickwork and the boarded- up windows, and shook his head in disbelief.

Friends and relatives were at a complete loss yesterday as to the motive behind an arson attack that killed four generations of the Day family - seven people in all - at their terraced house in Chingford, north-east London, early on Saturday.

"As far as I know, they didn't have an enemy in the world," said Chantelle Anderson, a family friend who had come to pay her respects. "There were no feuds or rows going on with them. I can't think of a reason why anyone would do something so terrible."

The victims - Sandra Day, 51, her son Lee, 20, his four-year-old twin daughters, Madison and Rhiannan, his two-year-old son, Rhys, Mrs Day's 75-year-old mother, Kathleen, and a 16-year-old believed to be Lee Day's girlfriend - all died of smoke inhalation.

Yesterday, as formal identifications were carried out and post-mortem examinations finished at East Ham mortuary in east London, detectives interviewed friends and relatives in an attempt to find possible reasons for the family being attacked. The seven deaths are being treated as murder.

At Highams Park Baptist Church, a few hundred yards from the house, prayers were said for the victims yesterday. The minister, the Rev Hugh Doyle, said after the morning service that his congregation was stunned by the deaths.

"There is a deep sense of anger and incomprehension that something like this could happen, especially around here," he said. "It is a very quiet community, a very safe community." Mr Doyle, who is planning a special service of reflection and prayer with other churches next Sunday, said: "It is as if a terrorist attack has been carried out on a shop. It has produced the same massive loss of life."

Police believe petrol was probably poured through the letter-box of the three-storey house, where the family had lived for more than 10 years. A red plastic petrol canister has been removed from the scene.

The fire, which swept through the house at about 1am on Saturday, destroying the roof and most of the internal floors, was described by police as "a horrific attack on innocents". They are planning a second forensic search today.

Mrs Day's husband, Brian, 52, was the sole survivor. He managed to clamber down a ladder placed against a first-floor bedroom window by neighbours and was treated at Whipps Cross Hospital for burns to his hands.

The three children, who were trapped inside with the other adults, lived with Lee Day's separated wife, according to friends, but often spent weekends with their father.

The alarm was raised by the family's next-door neighbour, Lisa Lewis, who was woken by the sound of screaming. She called the fire brigade and alerted another neighbour, a window cleaner, who took his ladders to the house.

Miss Lewis, 25, said: "It was terrible. I could hear the kids coughing and crying, but there was nothing I could do. There was no way anyone could get in there." With flames roaring from the roof and windows, neighbours tried in vain to kick down the front door. Miss Lewis said that the children's mother then arrived and she heard her scream "Get my babies! Get my babies!". She collapsed and was taken to hospital.

There was a steady stream of visitors yesterday to the end-of-terrace house in Bellamy Road, a cul-de-sac on a 1970s council estate. "They were a lovely family, all of them," said one woman, her face contorted with grief. "I just can't believe that this has happened."

Neighbours, still stunned, stood in their front gardens, surveying the scene. Two teenage girls clung to each other in the rain, weeping. Visitors added to the growing pile of flowers; some left teddy bears in memory of the children who died. "You will always be remembered," read the note on one bouquet. "Seven angels taken from us to heaven."